a closer kpop reading of shinee’s don’t call me

discover the symbolism of the new music video

It’s been about 36 hours since SHINee ended their three-year hiatus with the release of Don’t Call Me. Already, the new music video has racked up more than 8.5 million views. If you’ve been streaming, you’re likely familiar with the visuals by now, but how closely did you study them? It turns out that there is a lot of symbolism hiding in the details.

What is Don’t Call Me by SHINee about, anyway?

This song makes a strong demand: stop calling me, move on and let me go, so that I can do the same. It describes a toxic relationship that has come to an end for the singer. The other person involved isn’t ready to say goodbye, though. They are continuing to reach out to their ex, and their persistence is making it impossible for either of them to start over and find someone new.

The Main Setting

Much of the video takes place inside a single setting–a train station. It’s clear from the failing ceiling, the broken glass, the grimy windows, the broken furnishings and the cobwebs that cover many surfaces that the place is not in use. It’s safe to say it hasn’t been for a long, long time.

Typically, train stations are places of connection. We go to them because we want to go from one place to another. A desolate train station represents a broken down connection. There’s nothing left in this decaying place, but you’re stuck there. It’s impossible to get to the next location because trains are no longer running.

This represents the relationship between the couple. Their connection is severed, and SHINee is now trapped in this place. Even though the entire station is run down, this person is still trying to reach out through the phone in the broken booth. It won’t do any good, of course. Key can’t hang up and catch a train to get to them. The call probably won’t even come through clearly given the condition of the place. In other words, whatever message the caller wants to send won’t be well received.

A few times, you can see the name of the sign over the train station door. It reads:

Un esprit brisé

hall de gare

The English translation for the French is:

A broken spirit

station hall

Once you know the name, the symbol of the station becomes even more profound. The name suggests that this isn’t a real place at all. It is a metaphor for the spirit of the singer of the song. Their spirit has been broken down due to the toxic relationship and the other person’s refusal to let go.

The symbolic nature of the setting becomes even clearer by the end of the video. Suddenly, the walls are gone, and you can see that the station is surrounded by outer space. There is literally a whole universe out there to be discovered beyond this place, but where is SHINee? Trapped inside because of this relationship that refuses to die.

The Floating Furniture

A few times, the scene cuts to Minho standing in a glowing red space with furniture floating all around him. Candelabras and lamps flicker in midair among chairs, tables, and other common household items. As things progress, large particles of dust begins to fly around, and they stick to him, making it look like flowers are growing out of his head.

Furniture is usually what fills your home. It’s what surrounds you during the day-to-day activities of your life. Here, it has an ominous feel like it’s all waiting to crash down on top of Minho. To me, the presence of the furniture represents reminders of his life before. The bright color red likely symbolizes anger, as that is the dominant emotion of the song. With the dust blowing, the room begins to feel chaotic and threatening. It’s sticking to him the way the past his, turning hm into something else and making him increasingly unrecognizable.

The relationship is doing the same thing. It’s practically crushing the singer. The constant reminder of the past are making their life crazy and changing who they are.

The Broken Ladder

During the middle of the video, Onew sings in front of a rickety weathered ladder with missing rungs. Eventually, it starts to rain, and he continues to remain next to it, holding an umbrella. Obviously, this ladder isn’t any good to anyone. He’s stuck at the bottom of it. If it was fixed, maybe he could climb up out of the rain, but as it stands, all he can do is hold on and wait for the drops to stop.

This ties into the message of being trapped in an already-ended relationship. It’s the other person who needs to take the last step to bring closure for both people. All SHINee can do is wait for them to get the message.

The Plastic

Taemin is shown floating high above the station floor surrounded by billowing curtains of fabric. He then sings standing among the blowing material.

What does it say on many plastic bags? Suffocation hazard. If you get caught in plastic, you can’t breathe, and eventually you die.

Here, Taemin is at risk of being smothered just like the boys are having their lives taken away by their persistent caller.

The Wreckage

Key is shown standing in the middle of a sea atop what appears to be the remains of a train, a boat or a plane. The type of vehicle doesn’t really make a difference to the meaning: he was on his way somewhere, there was a wreck and now he’s stuck.

This sends the same message as Onew‘s ladder; however, there is a more dangerous element here. Key could fall off or the wreckage could sink. With its precariousness, this visual represents how the past can harm the present.

You even get confirmation that this represents the past when they show the image presented on a screen like it’s already happened.

We also see the phone submerged in water at one point. In order for Key to answer that, he’d have to dive in and risk drowning. If he picks up his ex’s call, he will similarly be plunged into the past.

The Ghost Train

A few times we see a ghostly train speed by the wall-less train station toward the end of the video. This specter is likely the memory of the relationship, flashing before their eyes. It is also a reminder of just how trapped they are in the “Broken Spirit” train station.

That wraps up my analysis of the visual elements of Don’t Call Me by SHINee. What did you think of the video? Did you see anything that I missed? Drop me a comment and let me know.

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11 thoughts on “a closer kpop reading of shinee’s don’t call me

  1. I love everything about this video, but admittedly didn’t look deeper into the symbolism. Your analysis makes a lot of sense. I don’t think I’ll see the video the same way again💜💜

  2. I’m going to be honest, I never once noticed outer space beyond the walls of the train station, and I never would have known what the station was called, so I learned a lot from this analysis! I would have liked it if they played more with the reality vs fake reality theme they had going with the photoshoots and albums, or even did more with whatever the heck those flowers meant. The fake reality set appeared “prim and proper” but there were strange things and destruction going on just under the surface. Then when we arrive at true reality (ie. the setting for the mv) everything is just in shambles. Maybe the relationship was always bad, but they just had to finally admit it and face reality for what it truly was?

  3. I like your interpretation of the video’s elements. I had some of the same ideas about the hazards and the shadows, and how the abandoned and destroyed train station was a statement about the relationship being sung about. The guys seem like they’re restlessly passing time there, unable to move on. I love the layers of meaning.

  4. I really like this idea of the meaning and symbolism of the song. That is what I thought bout it. I wish I had song when my ex keep massaging me all the time.

  5. Wow I never thought to look into the deeper meaning of the song. I didn’t realize there were so many motifs in the setting!

  6. Really love the album and love that each member seem to have solo shots! I am happy that they are back and hope they win many music shows!

  7. such on insightful analysis! thank you for sharing this with us. After seeing the video a couple of times I did start to wonder if there were connections to other songs. The theme of false reality reminded me of “EveryBody”. Don’t call me is such a great song! The whole album is amazing.

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